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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Liebe Freunde der deutschen Sprache,
“Mehr Deutsch, please” – this headline adorned a newspaper article I published some weeks ago when we announced the Federal Foreign Office’s decision to do more to promote German as a foreign language in the United States. I am delighted that we now have the opportunity to meet here in New York to work on this endeavor at the 2nd German Language Conference organized by the Goethe Institute.
Just a couple of hours ago, some of you were with us in Downtown Manhattan, where we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the German American Partnership Program. This exchange program has been a great success. It should play a key role in our language strategy for the future. I am convinced that no technology and no social media network can replace the experience of visiting another country and the personal friendships that result.
The United States is and will remain our most important partner outside Europe. But our relationship is changing significantly. A new transatlantic agenda, new players on both sides of the Atlantic and the rise of new powers are all having an impact on our partnership. Ladies and Gentlemen, let us all do what we can to make the distance across the Atlantic smaller rather than wider.
One way to get there is to encourage curiosity and interest in Germany among young Americans. Teaching the German language in schools and universities is an excellent tool for transmitting knowledge about our country and conveying a modern image of Germany. Unfortunately, far fewer Americans are learning German now than was the case 20 years ago. Even though German still ranks third among the foreign languages taught, we are definitely on the defensive. The reasons for this trend are manifold, and I will name just two. Firstly, fewer Americans have European roots. This means that we now also have to think of ways to encourage Asian-Americans and Hispanics to study German. Secondly, financial restrictions are forcing many schools and universities to shut down their language programs. However, thanks to the commitment of many German teachers and the tireless efforts of institutions like the Goethe Institute, the American Association of Teachers of German as well as the many partners of “Netzwerk Sprachvergnügen”, the situation is still much better than it could have been. Many steps have already been taken in the right direction.
Generally we can say that the situation in the U.S. is very different now from what it was a few decades ago. We have to adapt our strategy and our instruments to the new situation. We will have to focus on certain regions, on certain topics and say good-bye to the idea of “perfectionism”: Not every high school student has to study “Germanistik” later on – or be able to understand Hegel in the original. Few Germans can, to be honest.
However, we can build on a number of newer developments. Germany is well known for engineering, green energy, modern art and pop culture. And for Berlin! We should concentrate on issues like these that young students are interested in – without forgetting about Goethe, Hegel and Schiller, of course.
Two years ago we commissioned a study to look at the current state of German in the U.S. and, in line with its conclusions, initiated various activities to work against the trend:
- The Federal Foreign Office chose the United States as the country in which to kick off a multi-annual and sustainable program to promote the German language.
- On this side of the Atlantic, German and American partners have already developed many ideas to make German language classes an attractive and interactive pleasure. Some great projects have already been realized, for example the “soccer camps” – in my view, a great way to reach new target groups!
The first milestone on this uphill road towards “More Deutsch” was the study I just mentioned, which was published in September 2010 at the behest of our Embassy in Washington. Many of you contributed significantly to this study, which included a number of unanimous recommendations. Several of these ideas have already been put into practice. The study was also the basis for the Goethe Institute New York 1st German Language Conference which took place last fall. The next milestone was the detailed study produced by Professors Hamilton and Legutke that built on the results already achieved at that date and contained many excellent proposals. In recent weeks and months you have worked on some very concrete projects that we will discuss tomorrow. They all have the same aim: to give our commitment to promoting German in the U.S. a sustainable and long-term new orientation and to generate enthusiasm for our language. I am looking forward to hearing more about these proposals tomorrow.
I can assure you that the German Government is serious about asking for “Mehr Deutsch, please” in the U.S.
Even in times of financial crisis and budget restrictions we are determined to allocate more resources to promoting German in the United States. If all American and German partners work together, we can achieve a lot for the German language. We just have to pull in the same direction. In that way we will be nurturing the German American partnership and ensuring that the transatlantic partnership continues to flourish.
In this sense I hope we will all have productive and fruitful debates tomorrow. I am convinced that we are well on the way to achieving our goal of “Mehr Deutsch”.